Find a buddy with a Costco membership and buy their Kirkland brand European vodka. You’ll get a handle (1.75 Liter) for like $30, and’s great. If that’s not possible, get Tito’s if you can find it. It’s really good. Pour it over ice, squeeze a quarter of lemon into it, and enjoy. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is, one doesn’t “venture more into vodka.” I have to tell you that vodka is what you drink when you don’t really like other liquors, and/or don’t know what else to drink. Vodka is a clear spirit, which means it’s unaged, and pretty simple. You can buy “premium” vodkas for stupid prices, but they’re really not that different from the more modestly priced products like Kirkland brand. Read: not worth the mark-up.
If you want to “venture” into a distilled spirit, but don’t want to go broke buying expensive Bourbons or really old Scotches, I recommend Rum. But be aware, I’m not talking about anything with a pirate or a squid on the bottle (Captain Morgan or Kraken), and I’m also not talking about anything from Bacardi. Those are rums for chumps. The good thing about rum is you can get a really good rum for way cheaper than you can get a really good whiskey, and there’s less involved in “acquiring” the taste.
So if I can make a recommendation to you, skip the vodka. No one becomes a connoisseur of vodkas just because, and the reason why is that there’s not really enough going on in vodka to “venture” into it. Whiskey is great, and if you weren’t a stereotypical broke college kid, I would heartily advise you to get into whiskey. But good whiskey is expensive, and in college, all you can afford is Jack Daniel’s, which is the sewer water of whiskeys and you should never drink it unless you want to hate whiskey. Instead, get into rum, which you can get pretty cheaply and in excellent quality at or around your price range.
Recommended rum brands include:
Flor de Caña
and my favorite: Zafra
You’re looking for “aged rum” or Ron Añejo if possible, and try to avoid anything “spiced,” although in the “really cheap” category, I’ve actually enjoyed Shell Back rum in the past, and it’s super cheap, if you can find it. And if you absolutely have to, Costco sells a handle (1.75 liter) of spiced rum which is actually pretty good, and it’s like $22 for the big bottle. So get into rum until you can afford good whiskey, and save the vodka for vodka martinis, or again, pour it over ice with a quarter lemon.